Thursday, August 16, 2012

5 trips to the darker side of Fairyland

List by Danielle

'Ellum do grieve,
Oak he do hate
Willow do walk
If Yew travels late'
~ From Faeries

This is inspired in part by Scriven's fab selection of recent fairytales on the Auckland Libraries blog - including fairytale knits! - and in part by reading the wonderful Locus Award-winning The girl who circumnavigated Fairyland in a ship of her own making, by Catherynne M. Valente. I love fairytales, and I love it when authors take the old familiar settings, characters and motifs and make something dark and eerie and wonderful and new with them. I'm particularly fond of stories that give me a sense of the strangeness and power of Fairyland and its denizens. I think it *should* be scary - a trip to Fairyland should give you pause, should tempt and terrify in equal measure.

Also recommended:
  • Wicked lovely, Melissa Marr's YA series - darkly beautiful, enjoyable if you've got a reasonable tolerance for angst and teenaged love triangles
  • Erica Hayes' erotic Shadowfae series - flawed, and the characters aren't particularly likeable, but she has some nice imagery that gives you all the glorious tastes and scents of fairy life, alongside the crazy sights; especially in the stand-alone second book, Shadowglass
  • Kissing the witch / Emma Donoghue - before she became uber-famous for the amazingly strong and unforgettable Room, Donoghue wrote this book of short interconnected stories that explore the relationships between female characters in fairytales
  • Any anthologies from Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling
  • Victorian fairytales, French fairytales, fairytales in picture books... it's all good!
The dragons of Babel / Michael Swanwick
Enslaved by a war-dragon of Babel, young Will evacuates to the Tower of Babel where he meets the confidence trickster, Nat Whilk, and becomes a hero to the homeless living in the tunnels under the city. As he rises from an underling to a politician, Will falls in love with a high-elven woman he dare not aspire to.

Michael Swanwick's writing is gorgeous, and endlessly inventive, whether he's writing fantasy, sci-fi or short fiction. His elves are Not Very Nice at all. I really wanted to rec The iron dragon's daughter, the first of his Fairyland tales, but we only have one copy and it is MISSING. Boo.

Rosemary and rue / Seanan McGuire
The world of Faerie never disappeared: it merely went into hiding, continuing to exist parallel to our own. Secrecy is the key to Faerie's survival - but no secret can be kept forever, and when the fae and mortal worlds collide, changelings are born. Half-human, half-fae, outsiders from birth, these second-class children of Faerie spend their lives fighting for the respect of their immortal relations. Or, in the case of October 'Toby' Daye, rejecting it completely. After getting burned by both sides of her heritage, Toby has denied the fae world, retreating into a 'normal' life. Unfortunately for her, Faerie has other ideas. The murder of Countess Evening Winterrose, one of the secret regents of the San Francisco Bay Area, pulls Toby back into the fae world. Unable to resist Evening's dying curse, which binds her to investigate, Toby is forced to resume her old position as knight errant to the Duke of Shadowed Hills and begin renewing old alliances that may prove her only hope of solving the mystery - before the curse catches up with her.

A good, solid urban fantasy series with a touch of romance - just a nicely-balanced touch. Seanan McGuire sets up some believable, thoughtful rules and social conventions for her Faerie folk, bringing to life the minefield of survival at the courts of capricious rulers. As anti-social, kickass heroines go, I find Toby Daye more sympathetic and fallible than some, and she's starting to gather quite a retinue of lost souls, friends and followers by the most recent title in the series, One salt sea. 

Kingdoms of Elfin / by Sylvia Townsend Warner
The one and the other -- The five black swans -- Elphenor and Weasel -- The blameless triangle -- The revolt at Brocéliande -- The mortal milk -- Beliard -- Visitors to a castle -- The power of cookery -- Winged creatures -- The search for an ancestress -- The climate of exile -- The late Sir Glamie -- Castor and Pollux -- The occupation -- Foxcastle.

Wonderfully unusual stories that play endlessly with language and turn any ideas of sentimentalising elves on their heads. These are not particularly nice stories and you'll find it hard to like or care about any of the characters, but that's probably not the point, anyway. Well worth a read if you'd like to watch words doing gymnastics as brilliant as any you'd see at the Olympics.

Faeries / described and illustrated by Brian Froud and Alan Lee ; edited and designed by David Larkin
"Twenty-five years ago, self-proclaimed "faery authorities" Froud and Lee published the first edition of their imaginative faery field guide. Since then, the two have gone on to publish numerous faery books and contribute their ideas to such fantasy films as The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, Legend and the Lord of the Rings. This expanded version, like its predecessor, features pencil drawings and watercolors of mythical creatures, as well as brief descriptions of their origins and powers." (Synopsis from Publishers Weekly)

My parents had this on their bookshelves when I was a kid, and I spent long hours studying the pictures. This book is why I'm afraid of trees at night, or pools of weedy green water, I'm sure of it. If you've seen the movies above, you'll be familiar with the artistics stylings of these magical illustrators. A book full of absolute delights.

The girl who circumnavigated Fairyland in a ship of her own making / Catherynne M. Valente ; with illustrations by Ana Juan
Twelve-year-old September lives in Omaha, and used to have an ordinary life, until her father went to war and her mother went to work. One day, September is met at her kitchen window by a Green Wind (taking the form of a gentleman in a green jacket), who invites her on an adventure, implying that her help is needed in Fairyland. The new Marquess is unpredictable and fickle, and also not much older than September. Only September can retrieve a talisman the Marquess wants from the enchanted woods, and if she doesn’t... then the Marquess will make life impossible for the inhabitants of Fairyland. September is already making new friends, including a book-loving Wyvern and a mysterious boy named Saturday. With exquisite illustrations by acclaimed artist Ana Juan, Fairyland lives up to the sensation it created when the author first posted it online.

I've just read that this started life as a crowdfunded online project! How cool is that? You can still read some of it online. And! Look at Valente's beautiful website. I absolutely loved Valente's intricately constructed Orphan's tales, which set tale after tale into an interlinked web of sensory delight and magical details. The Fairyland story of September, above, truly deserves it's Locus Award and I heartily recommend it. The wordy, playful and self-conscious style may put some people off, but the story packs a real emotional punch by the end, and it is enjoyable unsentimental about the nature of both fairies and children.

1 comment:

Kylie T said...

Great list! These are going onto the (ever-growing) 'to read' list ASAP. And you'll be happy to know that the sequel to 'The girl who navigated Fairyland' is out in October; there's already a great trailer for it floating around the web :-).